Concerns about Cremation: Some Very Strange Practices Are Emerging

Funeral wood urn complete view isolated on pure white background

Some years ago, the Church gave wider permission for cremation and also lifted traditional restrictions on having cremated remains present in the church for funeral Masses. All of this is pastorally understandable. Very few if any people these days choose cremation for the reasons it had traditionally been forbidden, namely as a denial of the resurrection of the body. Generally the reasons chosen are economic, due to the increasingly high cost of traditional burial and the difficulty, especially in urban areas, of finding room for large cemeteries. The basic norms from the church regarding cremation are these:

The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching (Code of Canon Law No. 1176, 3).

Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites (Order of Christian Funerals no. 413).

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires (cf Order of Christian Funerals # 417).

From a pastoral point of view, these norms are  clear and understandable. However, as a pastor, I must say that I have growing concerns over practices that are appearing with the more widespread use of cremation.

The norms clearly indicate that cremated remains are not to be scattered, divided, or retained in the homes of the faithful on fireplace mantles, on shelves, or in other places. But these norms are somewhat difficult to enforce.

The problem emerges essentially from the detachment of the funeral Mass from interment. When cremation is chosen, it is common for the funeral Mass to be celebrated quickly but the burial to be scheduled at some “later date” when arrangements can be more conveniently made. Frequently clergy are told that the family will “call back” at some point in the future. But often these calls never come and burials are put off indefinitely.

Issues such as money, logistics, and family disputes are often factors in the delay. Priests, too, are  often busy and do not have time to follow up to see if “Uncle Joe” is ready for burial now.  As such, many deceased remain unburied for weeks, months, or years, or perhaps never even buried at all.

I was shocked a couple of years ago to discover that a certain Catholic family still had the cremated remains of an uncle on the top shelf of their closet. The delay centered around who in the family was going to pay for the burial lot and debates about whether burial was even necessary at all. Perhaps the ashes could just be scattered out in the woods.

Without the urgency to bury the dead, the burial is often given little regard.

Another concern came to my attention during recent funeral preparations. There was a tense debate going on among the assembled family members as to who would get to keep the ashes and who would not. The crematorium had offered to dispense ashes to different family members in sealed boxes or urns (for a price of course) and the debate seemed to center on whether certain family members were “qualified” to get some of “Mom” or not. Yikes! And when I instructed them that no division of the remains should take place at all, but rather that burial had to be arranged, I was greeted with puzzled stares and eventual “assurances” that such burial would be arranged “in due time,” once the family could work out their differences.

But things have gotten even worse.

Many funeral homes are now offering “jewelry” made from the cremated remains of loved ones or with the remains sealed within the jewelry. If you don’t believe me, click HERE, HERE, or HERE. The ghoulishness and bad taste are surpassed only by the shock of how suddenly such bizarre practices have been introduced. One can imagine the following awful dialogue: “Hey, that’s pretty new jewelry! Was that your Mom’s?”  “Well, actually it is Mom!” Double yikes!

Cremation is certainly here to stay. And I do not doubt there are sound pastoral reasons for its use. However, the norms of the Church insist that cremated remains be treated with the same respect as the body. And just as we would not scatter body parts in the woods, or divide up limbs and torsos to distribute to family members, or put fingers into resin and wear them as earrings, neither should we do this with cremated remains. These ARE the remains of a human being and they are to be buried or placed in a mausoleum with the same respect due the uncremated body.

I think pastors are going to have to teach more explicitly on this matter and that  bishops may need to issues norms that will help to prevent problems. One helpful norm might be to refuse to celebrate a funeral Mass until proper burial is scheduled. I am unclear if a pastor alone can do this, but surely a diocese must also have an increasingly firm and clear policy of which people are widely informed.

Simply permitting cremation without well-thought-out policies has proven to be a mistake. I pray that a post like this may provoke thought from all of us in the Church as to how to deal pastorally with a situation that is degrading quickly. We must do some teaching, but we also must not cooperate with bad practices.

The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has proposed a possible solution for Catholic cemeteries to offer to families who are financially unable to bury the cremated remains of loved ones:

For some families, the choice of cremation is based on financial hardship, so this choice often means also that there is no plan for committal or burial of the cremated remains. As a means of providing pastoral support and an acceptable respectful solution to the problem of uninterred cremated remains, one diocese offered on All Souls’ Day in 2011 an opportunity for any family who desired it the interment of cremated remains. The diocese offered a Mass and committal service at one of its Catholic cemeteries and provided, free of charge, a common vault in a mausoleum for the interment of the cremated remains. The names of the deceased interred there were kept on file, though in this case they were not individually inscribed on the vault. [1]

I am interested in your thoughts and experiences and hope to share them with my bishop and my fellow clergy


163 Replies to “Concerns about Cremation: Some Very Strange Practices Are Emerging”

  1. I’ve said for some time now that we are in an age of full re-paganization, that Catholics with non-Catholic relatives need to have a frank end-of-life discussion *before* someone dies. That means making clear that there will be no euthanasia, and no ash scattering or other funky disposal of the body.

    1. This is absolutely true. So much could be sorted out beforehand. However, that would actually mean talking about death, and that is considered taboo.

  2. My mother recently died. The entire burial, including a one day wake, Catholic Mass with organist, grave side burial in a Catholic cemetery, and luncheon afterward cost $11,000. This was not including the grave and headstone, which were previously purchased. The grave would now cost around $2000. The headstone about $1000. Who can afford this? Nothing about the funeral or burial was fancy or extravagant. Fortunately my mother had life insurance bought and paid up many year ago that covered these costs. But you can see why cremation is such an attractive option.

    I think the first thing is that Catholics need more direction regarding norms of the Church. This could be done in church bulletins, via pamphlets in the back of church, on websites such as the NCCB, on parish websites, blogs, from the pulpit, and even on websites of funeral homes . Get the word out.

    Secondly, people should be encouraged to make their wishes known to family members. This also can be encouraged via the same outlets as above, along with the norms. It wouldn’t hurt to use a few examples as you did above to encourage people to prevent those kinds of scenarios by writing out their wishes, even the most basic ones, and putting little money aside, if they can, for the final disposition of their body.

    As difficult as it is to do, (I’m middle aged, but I’ve done it. It’s kind of morbid and unsettling, but now that it’s done, I feel better.) writing out your wishes makes the funeral easier for the family. With my mother we knew exactly what she wanted given that my dad died first and we simply duplicated many of the choices she made for him. But also, shortly after his death, she sat down with me and detailed her own wishes; such as the dress she wanted to be buried in, the type of coffin she wanted, and even music she wanted at Mass. She was a faithful Catholic, so everything she wished was in conformity to the Church. But when it came time, knowing her wishes made decisions easier for me.

    I love the idea of a communal committal service at a Catholic cemetery for those unable to afford a burial plot, at one time of year, such as All Souls Day. That would be a wonderful work of mercy, and I bet very comforting to those who are disturbed by never having buried the remains of their loved ones.

    To me, though, the greatest tragedy is when the kids have fallen away, and a faithful Catholic parent is cremated without a Mass, and then the ashes are not interred or are scattered. Perhaps the person just assumed their kids would give them a Church burial. But nothing is certain these days. Better to make sure your wishes are known.

    1. I don’t know where you reside, but double those prices for our diocese. Some have chosen to be buried in a non-Catholic cemetery because of the high cost of burial in a Catholic cemetery, and have the grave blessed. I am choosing to be cremated. I think it is scandalous that funerals here are more than $20,000 including burial, casket, Mass, etc. We have some poor families in our parish who chose to have a wooden casket, which here looks like a bunch of apple crates cobbled together. Better to get one from the Trappists in Kentucky, but that was out of their budget or they were not aware… Other parish families offered a plot for these poor so their loved one could be buried. My Aunt (93) who died in October, asked that her ashes be scattered. I convinced her sister that this was not acceptable; now she has her remains in an urn at her home. She cannot afford to bury the ashes in any cemetery because she is poor. Perhaps I should offer to have her bury the ashes in one of our graves since we are getting older, and one of us is very ill…Unfortunately there are so few Catholics remaining in our Faith that we have to specify what we would like, and pray that our wishes are carried out by the one who is still faithful.

  3. When my maternal grandmother passed away in 1996, my mother’s church was in the process of planning a columbarium within the parish building. Unfortunately the columbarium was not finished until three years after my grandmother passed away, so in the meantime her cremains were stored at the funeral home (Mom was a bit weirded out by the notion of having the cremains in our house).

    Probably Mom’s reluctance to have cremains sitting around stems from my paternal grandmother’s death in 1968, when Mom happened to answer the door when my grandmother’s cremains were delivered to the door, and the box thrust into her hands. [At the time my grandparents lived in South Bend IN, just across the street from Notre Dame, and my uncle was to take the ashes to the family burial plot in PA.]

    Both of my grandmothers died suddenly, and although cremation may have been discussed as an option at some point, I don’t know that there was consideration of what to do with the cremains between cremation and burial.

    Fortunately when my mother died, she already had a nook in a columbarium (shared with my grandmother), so her cremains sat in my guest room overnight after I picked them up from the funeral home, and my then-8yo daughter clutched the urn as we drove to church for the burial.

    I suspect that many of the problems you describe are a result of the fact that we don’t care to plan for our deaths. We don’t go to Confession to be spiritually prepared for death, and we avoid the more mundane aspects as well.

  4. I plan on cremation for financilal reasons and it will give my extended family time to get to where my funeral will be so as to not concern them with immediate flight plans at the last moment which can be out rageous,my cremains will be in a nice Trappist Casket Urn I am a practicing Catholic for the past 74 yrs,
    George ,,

  5. I’m sorry…allowing cremation is just wrong. I’m Maronite Catholic and we do not allow cremation. Latin Rite Catholics need to be taught better.

    1. Dave, how would you handle a person who died alone in their bathtub thousands of miles away from their family? The body, or what remained of it (after its discovery 2 weeks later) was ineligible for transport in its severely decomposed state and had to be cremated in order to be returned to the family. What can you teach us about this, since you say you know better than I.

      The year of Mercy approaches. Please look into it.

      1. C Beltz, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy which the Catholic Church has been keen on observing for as long as She has existed. Returning the remains of the dead to their family is not. There are a great great great many people throughout history who for whatever reason died far from their families and were buried in a foreign land. Our Lord is one of these people. While Jerusalem was not a foreign land and may not be far from Nazareth by our standards today, it was plenty far back then. Our eternal memory is in heaven not here on earth. I do not agree that “cremation is just wrong”, but Latin Rite Catholic most definitely do need to be taught better. One of a great many things we need to be taught better.

        1. Quanna, what if the remains were not in the care, custody or control of the family? What if no church was available to take them? They might end up in a potters field. They would most definitely still be cremated and likely given even less respect.

          Our Lord was laid in the arms of his Mother, by the way.

          Finally, for you to use such an anachronistic argument is unfair. You apply today’s means to yesteryears sensibilities. In the present, the dead are not respected in general society, Quite frankly, neither are the living but that is a matter for another blog.

          In your opinion, how does one perform the Work of Mercy from afar, how does one ensure proper burial? What is the fruit of this Work of Mercy? Is it only for the dead, or does it convey itself on to the person who actually performs it? If I cannot bury my relative with any sort of dignity, then how have I performed this mercy?

    2. Dave, I understand your apprehension, but it’s not an issue of Latins being taught better; it’s the teachers themselves that are allowing cremation. I am a big supporter of burial on the grounds that it is a custom that pre-dates Christianity: The earliest Christian converts were from Judiasm, which did not allow cremation, and these converts kept to that tradition. Until very recently (1963) Catholics who had requested cremation were to be denied Christian burial, even if the body ended up not being cremated. That’s how seriously the Latin Church took it.

      In a move toward pastoral sensitivity to people’s financial situation, cremation was allowed in order to sidestep what could be a hardship for some people. I believe a happy medium would be to adopt the custom of the Greek Orthodox, which is to inter the remains, then some years later after natural decomposition, exhume the coffin and put whatever may be left into an ossuary (like an urn) which is then put into a columbarium.

    3. I’m a Latin Rite Catholic. I’ve been well-taught and have been a good learner, praise God. I intend my body to be buried and will leave instructions and the resources to make it happen. Having said that…

      Have you read what people are saying here? If you want more Catholics to have traditional burials in Catholic cemeteries,

      1. Prices must come down, or

      2. Incomes must go up.

      All bodies decay and oxidize; cremation is just accelerated decay. Pastoral and catechetical solutions are needed, yes, but imposing the traditional burial as the only solution will come to nothing as the pockes of real people will take precedence, specially for the poor and the working class.

      1. True, but also 3. We can save and plan for the one thing certain.

        “Thus Jacob’s sons did for him as he had instructed them.” (Gn 50:12)

        I don’t ponder ‘what if’ so much as what is, was and will be. I have already arranged for burial am well below ‘poverty level’. As for accelerating decay please see Fr. Joe’s point below. God bless

    4. I disagree, Dave. I do not believe it is just wrong. I prefer a burial but people die every day sometimes in more violent ways from which their bodies are never recovered. As long as reverence is shown I believe God takes care of it all. From dust we come and to dust we return.

  6. I was similarly shocked when a friend at work told me she was disappointed that she didn’t get some of her mom’s ashes, and when another friend described scattering her father’s ashes over the bay. But even more shocking to me was my cousin’s cremation. She had arranged everything with the funeral home before she died, including “transportation” to the cemetery which was located in a different part of the state from the funeral home. However, we were shocked to learn that the funeral home planned to handle the “transportation” of her remains by mailing them via UPS to the cemetery! When we adamantly refused to transport her via UPS, the funeral home finally agreed to deliver by car my cousin’s remains.

    I believe there is a lack of understanding re the Church’s views on cremation. It is not often discussed.

    1. It is not often discussed because the majority of clergy are no longer Catholic.

        1. Hmmmm indeed, but sadly too often true. I was recently shocked at a funeral to hear the priest declare the deceased was an “angel” and “already in Heaven” and further declare that ALL present had the same “sure” destiny. Gosh, what Catholic seminary educated this one? Purgatory? Purification? These words are rarely, if ever, spoken at funeral homilies, let alone mentioned in any other Mass. Catholics today are largely being spoon-fed the notion that “all is forgiven” without any of the obligations to follow the Commandments, refrain from sinning, repentance, contrition – all that “dated” stuff. God have mercy on us all, but especially the modernists….

  7. I have donated my body to a Catholic university for research. All donated bodies (body parts) are cremated together and are buried in a United Church of Christ cemetery. There is a non Catholic service. Is this against Church teachings?

    1. Having worked in the Dept of Anatomy for one of the nation’s largest medical schools, I would NEVER donate ANY part of my body to “science”. There is a general disrespect for the human body in these institutions and don’t let anybody fool you into thinking any differently. After the body parts are used, they are discarded like trash in an industrial incinerator.

  8. I have heard from different parishes where I live that if you are going to have a cremation, that you should still have a wake, with the body and a reviewal and the Mass, with the body. You may then cremate and you must have the ashes buried. It is not however a requirement. You may cremate and have the ashes at the mass.
    One family, who wanted to divvy up the ashes, were told that if that is what you plan on doing, you may not have a Mass of Christian Burial.

  9. Dear Father, You are so correct in many areas, that specifically apply to my family. Sadly, when my father passed, the family came unglued. I was far away at the time, and the only regret (that I wasn’t there to be involved in funeral arrangements) was that I did not get to kiss him goodbye at the funeral as I have other loved ones. He was cremated before I could arrive. There was so much disagreement, that one member felt compelled to keep the cremated remains from the others, for fear they would scatter the ashes. The reasons they gave for wanting to, or accusing others of not wanting to, was bizarre. Yes, the rules need to be made more clear. Even when me and one sibling looked it up and told the others how the Church explained it, they didn’t accept it. Like the suggestion above for All Souls Day, perhaps we could institute an information presentation about respect for the dead, that burying is a work of mercy, etc. In Europe it is a day to visit your family gravesite and clean it up, have a picnic there, and celebrate the lives of those passed. Perhaps at this information session, there could be a free planning guide so that people can specify the kind of funeral they want (within the Church). Perhaps even funeral homes from nearby could explain some of the cost choices. Everyone knows Catholic funerals are beautiful and celebrations of entering into Heaven, so it should be something beautiful. Sadly, those ill-formed just don’t get it… More evangelizing to do. (And I need to start soon, within my own family…but oh so hard.) I’d like a plane pine box made by the monks in Louisiana. Thanks for all you do.

  10. Over on Facebook I was asked why the practice of using relics does not also offend against the usual Catholic norms. Regarding relics let us remember: the practice is rare, their whole body isn’t dispersed (only a relatively small amount of fragments of bone or hair). Such relics are to be venerated and placed in areas of religious devotion in Churches, chapels and (rarely) in homes. But they are not put to be put in closets, merely displayed on fireplaces, strewn in fields and forests, or made into jewelry. If one has possession of a first class relic they do not venerate, they ought to return it to the local diocese so a place can be identified where such veneration and respect can be given. Finally, such veneration is only permitted in rare cases of canonized saints, as such the practice is an anomaly and should not set the norm for how we treat all bodies.

    1. Father,

      I have Saints relics on the mantle of my fireplace in my home (I’m renting a small condo and have no chapel in my home). Is this a problem?

      Thanks for your blog posts!

      1. I should think that it is OK but only if that is a good place for you to venerate them, more than merely display them. A preferable place is some sort of area for prayer such as a chapel or prayer corner. If perchance the fireplace serves a a kind of chapel or prayer area, fine. Otherwise I would locate them to where you pray regularly. Hope this helps

    2. Excellent article Father. I wasn’t aware of the variety of developments such as making jewelry with the cremains – as I have heard them referred to. I knew you could make a diamond out of them or send them into space. You suggested fragmentation of the ashes was “ghoulishness and (in) bad taste”. However, since you brought it up, many people regard the collection and veneration of relics, which from ancient times included bodies and body parts, (St. Catherine’s head), bone fragments, and so on to be ghoulish as well. (I don’t – but a lot of people seem to – esp. non-Catholics.)

      My point is, I think some people may have that in practice in mind when making a diamond out of mom or attempting to keep the ashes.

      In Latin countries, the practice of wearing relics or relicarios is a very old tradition. In fact the thecla or pendant which holds the relics have a loop to facilitate wearing the relic around the neck. So as ghoulish as it may seem, cremains in a locket may not be all that strange.

      Thanks for presenting clear Catholic teaching on the subject however. Your posts are very helpful.

      God bless!

    3. Excellent article Father. I wasn’t aware of the variety of developments such as making jewelry with the cremains – as I have heard them referred to. I knew you could make a diamond out of them or send them into space. You suggested fragmentation of the ashes was “ghoulishness and (in) bad taste”. However, since you brought it up, many people regard the collection and veneration of relics, which from ancient times included bodies and body parts, (St. Catherine’s head), bone fragments, and so on to be ghoulish as well. (I don’t – but a lot of people seem to – esp. non-Catholics.)

      My point is, I think some people may have that practice in mind when making a diamond out of mom or attempting to keep the ashes.

      In Latin countries, the practice of wearing relics or relicarios is a very old tradition. In fact the theca or pendant which holds the relics have a loop to facilitate wearing the relic around the neck. So as ghoulish as it may seem, cremains in a locket may not be all that strange.

      Thanks for presenting clear Catholic teaching on the subject however. Your posts are very helpful.

      God bless!

  11. What if the deceased were not Catholic but the child with custody of the ashes is? What if the deceased said what they wanted done with the ashes and it is something the Church does not permit. What if other people in the family will be angry if the Catholic doesn’t follow the will of the deceased who said the throw his remains in a trout stream. He was an unbaptized unbeliever. Is it wrong for a Catholic to follow his wishes? Paralysis on this issue has caused me to be one of those people with my parents ashes in my closet. I got them because when my father died I found that my sister had left my mothers cremains at the funeral home for the intervening two years. I honestly don’t know what to do.

  12. When my husband died unexpectedly, not very long ago, it was very expensive and had to be paid right away, luckily I have money. But it made me think of people who cannot afford to pay $15,000 within a week, and that’s for a funeral with no frills. I met a female at church, when her husband died a few years ago, she had no money and since the funeral home wanted the money up front, Father let her store the biddy in the bookstore at church until she had him cremated. (luckily that Father) is no longer there). Anyways, the woman, who’s very active at church, had her husband buried at CC with many other relatives and cannot bear to visit him there, she feels so bad. It’s so sad because it’s a responsibility to visit to deeds gravesite and pray.
    Anyways, Monsignor, the faithful need direction on making plans for funerals, no one at church knew how expensive funerals are and most of our parish are old.

    Thanks for writing this

    1. Ok so much for my auto spell. I meant to say “body” not biddy and deads not deeds, sorry. The woman had her husband buried in the same grave with several other relatives, because she was poor.

      Father, I wanted to give money to my church to have a fund for people who couldn’t afford to bury their loved ones. That way Father could take care of the body and the family could pay him back when they could, but that woman didn’t think it was a good idea, anyways.

      1. Candice,

        You’re fortunate to have had the money. My mom just died and had all four of her children listed as beneficiaries of her burial insurance. None of us is well-off and while two of us assigned the money to the funeral home without batting an eyelash, doing the right thing may ultimately cost my brother his marriage as he and his wife have been fighting because she wanted to keep the money as did my other sister. Neither gave a thought to my mother’s wishes to have a nice funeral, which was why she had the burial insurance. My sister hasn’t been in contact with family in 3 years and was upset that we didn’t consult with her on burial plans, then withheld money as we needed a body for the church and had to pay a casket rental fee which she disagreed with because of the added expense…and she doesn’t think a funeral lunch is necessary because then people just eat for free. There are no church ladies who make lunches so I called a deli for some things, other things were brought by friends and relatives; our funerarly tradition includes certain foods that the deli wouldn’t have. Because of my sister, the funeral home suggested that I have a memorial service there rather than a church funeral. My mom left the Church in 1972 and was reconciled with it shortly before her death so a memorial service at the funeral home wasn’t an option. Because my brother plans to come soon, we decided to bury the ashes when he’s here, in order to include him. I picked up my mom’s ashes today and they’re in my china cabinet.

  13. Monsignor Pope, we lost a child at 22 weeks of pregnancy. Little Samuel was born alive but passed within hours. We had a funeral mass and cremated the body. The remains were placed in a beautiful urn with his name, birth/death date, and a picture of an angel. Because my job moves me frequently we did not want to inter the remains only to move away, which we have since moved. Therefore, the urn is in a religous display in our home that is/ was blessed by a Priest. Your thoughts are appreciated.

    1. I am sorry for your loss. However i am concerned that a priest would have done this. Burying the dead is one of corporal works of mercy and remains of this child should be given the dignity of being restored to the earth from which they came not carried about. I hope this helps.

    2. Hi Jim,

      First let me say how sorry I am for your loss.

      Second, I understand you move quite a bit, but do you not have one central place you might continue to return to, that you used to call home? Perhaps where one of you grew up?

      Taking your child whereever you go does not help you grieve, in fact it ties you to your pain. I don’t think that is God’s intention for your family.

      The child is with God now. You must trust in Him. Pray for the wisdom to know a good place to lay your baby to rest and then make plans for a burial. There can be no peace for any of you until you submit to Gods will in this matter. He does know best. Trust in Him.

  14. The experiences we have had with death and cremation in the past year have left me baffled. So many people seem to have lost all respect for the dead, and for the living left to grieve. I had an uncle die. He donated his body to a teaching hospital. Though he did have a Lutheran funeral, there was no body to view. His remains will be buried, “at a later date.” We had two family friends die within 6 weeks of each other last spring. The son’s ashes were scattered in the timber by their family home. The father’s ashes now remain with his wife in her apartment. She says when she dies, the kids can do whatever they want with both of them, mingle them together, whatever, she doesn’t care. This couple has a burial plot, with a headstone already in place. However, since the man died, his death has not been noted on the headstone, and, he’s not been buried there. I also had a cousin die. His brother drove his ashes to Colorado on his motorcycle to do, I’m not sure what with them.

    While I do understand the idea of cremation, especially the cost of a funeral, casket, burial plot, etc., I’m not for it. My own mother died in 2013, which was the closet I’ve come to dealing with death. I helped plan her funeral, and chose a simple Trappist casket for her, which I’m certain pleased her very much. These caskets are simple, beautifully handcrafted, and lovingly prepared for those who have died. The monks pray for the person who is buried in them, and they are blessed. I cannot say enough how much peace it gave me to have Mom buried in a Trappist casket, and to have her receive a Catholic Mass, and burial.

    All this to say that yes, the Church must do a better job of explaining the need for respect for, and praying for, the dead, in these days of mass confusion.

  15. When the prospect was raised to allow cremation in the Archdiocese, the Cardinal asked for the views of his clergy in the Council of Priests. I remember it because we had three votes where I was the lone holdout. One is still too controversial to mention here. The other was the moving of Ascension Thursday to Sunday (we lost a collection envelope on that one). I also opposed change regarding cremation. Initially the ashes could not be brought into the churches for services… that has changed now. People are not always as sophisticated as some would imagine. Families (at least) bury bodies. Ashes (mostly scorched and ground-up bone) are today found in people’s homes and even showing up in yard sales and flea markets. Golf courses are regularly sprinkled with ashes although it is illegal. And, as you say, even jewelry is being made from human remains. As people keep them in their houses, there has evidently been a surge in paranormal activity. Either the souls in purgatory are restless or the devil is having fun with us. There was also the story in the news where a few ignorant boys found an urn of ashes and tried to smoke them… they mistakenly thought it was cocaine. Ashes should be interred. Cremation and ashes signify destruction. A corpse, while not an animated body, still signifies a human person and was the vehicle that once contained a soul and was the temple of the Holy Spirit. They are not equivalent in meaning.

  16. I have a question. Body parts of the Saints have been revered as relics, how does this differ from the division of cremains? Surely the bodies of the Saints should have been kept intact. If a Saint’s body can be divided then why not the cremains of modern human beings?

    1. Please see my reply above in this thread regarding this matter. I don’t think it is far to say that saints bodies are “divided” or that the Saints bodies are not “intact” Rather, at least in the past centuries, since rules and limits were placed on PAST excesses and there were excesses), only small fragments of bone or hair are dispensed and only for canonized saints who had been buried prior to their canonization and whose bodies ARE largely intact. Part of the whole battle over the body of Fulton Sheen revolves around the modern norms that bodies are not to be divided up and put in different places as sometimes happened in the early centuries. I think Peoria can and should be Sheen’s resting place in the future (since he was under-appreciated by the Archdiocese of NY in his day…but I digress). If relics are dispensed they will be only a small portion of the body. The same is true with Saint JPII. His body is still intact in Rome. Though a small number of relics have been dispensed. But it is not fair to say that “body parts” are being sent around.

      1. Would having a saint’s head in a different church than his/her body be considered an excess, even though we probably wouldn’t do that today?

      2. I venerated the right arm of St Spyridon in St Petersburg a few years ago, speaking of random body parts.

        1. OK, an excess, wouldn’t be allowed today because of excesses and bizarre notions that set up. But note that these things were at least motivated by a desire for veneration, not to save money etc, garish display and other practices that have nothing to do with religious veneration. Context, even for now abandoned practices is important.

    2. There was an odd papal practice in relatively recent times whereby the heart of a deceased pope would be removed and interred in the Roman church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio next to the Trevi Fountain. The rest of a pope’s body would normally be interred in St. Peter’s or at another church in the city.

      St. John Paul II gave the Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but the hearts of several popes right up to Leo XIII (d. 1903) are still there. St. Piux X put an end to this odd practice.

  17. This is a true story:

    I know of a non-Catholic family who had grandma cremated. They decided to pour her ashes into a lake and they decided to do it not from a boat, but from a helicopter hovering over the lake. When they arrived at the desired position over the lake, they opened the helicopter door and took the lid off the urn. They then turned the urn upside down to pour out the ashes. Unfortunately, because of the winds buffeting the helicopter, grandma’s ashes did not fall downwards into the lake; they flew back into the helicopter, covering all of the occupants.

    It was a reverent disposition all right!

  18. Msgr. Pope, can we change the starting point for this discussion? I agree that there are a number of irreverent and doctrinally incorrect practices. However, we should start from the viewpoint that a parishioner has died (or is about to die) and the responsibility of the parish is to provide a compassionate and healing funeral. Concern for dignity and reverence should include a recognition that the surviving family may depend on reducing funds expended on a funeral and burial. This may not just be a matter of what the Conference of Bishops terms “financial hardship,” it may be a matter of survivors well being – or of the deceased’s wish for a dignified burial in the face of dwindling resources. I agree that we need well-thought-out policies. Our first thought should be to treat the deceased and family with compassion and healing. By doing so we help them and the parish to a more reverent future and attitude.

  19. I do find it odd that you would consider it odd to keep pieces of the cremains. Does not the Church have “reliquariums” containing pieces of the saints to be incorporated in jewelry and altars and such?

    What’s odd for the goose is odd for the gander.

  20. My mom who died in 1992 was cremated and interned in CC by her wishes. Her body had been ravaged by cancer. I have a place to go when I am in town to pray for her and I can also attend mass there on Saturdays mornings. If she was in my closet or scattered somewhere I would have no peaceful resolution.

  21. I have thought long and hard about this and have sought the advice of my priest. I mean to be cremated, preferably after a funeral mass, and my remains to go to my alternate parish in Việt Nam. That is the only way that VN will allow my remains to go there. The ashes will be carried by my daughter. My worry is that the ashes might not get past TSA without getting dumped or confiscated.

  22. Msgr, I too would like the Church to be a bit more vocal on this matter. Until today I had not heard that scattering ashes was wrong. Does the church have any resources or guidance for those in rural towns (and no financial means) to bury a non-Catholic loved one?

  23. Ah, the 1960s just keep on giving, don’t they?

    Interestingly, before universal salvation and/or indifferentism became the norm in the Catholic Church following Vatican II, cremation was in fact used for the dead — but only for those deemed already in Hell (for example, when the death was a result of suicide).

    But now we are apparently enlightened, with so many statistical indicators going in the positive direction since all of the changes made by popes from the 1960s onward. (Or not.)

  24. New policies that can’t be enforced and/or that people can’t afford or be willing to pay for sounds problematic to me, and I readily admit that I have no idea what would be a better idea. God bless that Catholic cemetery and the people who run it for offering free interment.

  25. Msgr. Pope,

    Great posting on a subject that is never covered in homilies. In my entire life (46 years), I have heard exactly one homily on this subject at Sunday Mass and I never forgot what the priest said. The Church allows cremation, but it still *prefers* that we be buried traditionally, if possible. He added that the reason for this was because, as Catholics who believe in the resurrection of the dead, we should be buried like Christ in anticipation of our resurrection too. I realize that today not everyone can afford traditional burials and cemetery plots (especially in the D.C. metro area where everything seems to be very expensive) but I appreciated the fact that he took the time to preach on the subject for the reasons you cited. Personally, I believe the only way to educate the Catholic public is for bishops to instruct the priests under them to preach on this subject. Most adult Catholics (who still attend Mass) receive the majority of their catechesis from the Sunday homily. When subjects are never covered (like this one), it’s no wonder strange practices like the ones you cited start to gain popularity even among Catholics.

  26. A number of people I know as well as some of those who have commented have mentioned cost being a reason for cremation. A proper burial of the body can be done for about the same cost of a cremation (sometimes even less) by using the services of a “burial services” company, as opposed to a traditional mortuary. Additionally, don’t worry about getting a fancy casket. A $300 press board box covered with fabric is just fine and as dignified. Don’t worry about getting all the floral arrangements. Don’t worry about having a full meal wake for 50-100 people. You don’t need all the limos, extra mortuary workers, $3,000 headstone, the more expensive cemetery plot just because it’s next to the tree, on a hill or some other “upgraded” location. If the sole reason for cremation is cost then bury your loved one’s body cost effectively using a burial service. By burying their body you’ll be doing them, yourselves and all of the faithful a true favor.

    1. Michael, I’ve never heard of a “burial service.” This does sound like an alternative that omits the embalming, wake and other items that add to the cost of a funeral, but still, a grave at a Catholic Cemetery costs at least $2000, opening the grave (they charge for the burial itself) costs another $1000, and the cheapest headstones are still around $500. It seems to me the costs would still amount to around $5000, which for many people is still expensive. But I think it’s worth looking into. Thanks for the information.

    2. I began to search the internet for “burial services” but found what I was looking for under “direct burial.” In my area (the mid-west) a cremation (with transportation of the body and all legal paperwork) costs around $550. A “direct burial” with minimal container costs around $1000, but this does not include the cemetery plot, the opening of the grave, or the tombstone, which would bring costs to around $5000. That’s a huge difference. In addition, I am not sure what costs would be to have a graveside committal service with a priest, but I am sure taking the body to church for a Mass would add substantially to the cost.
      You can see why people opt for simple cremation, foregoing a funeral home and cemetery burial, and why scattering or burying the ashes somewhere profane might come to mind, given a full blown funeral can cost $15,000 and a simple cremation around $600, but with burial costs rise to thousands of dollars. Msgr, if funerals cost around $600, including the funeral Mass, I am sure many more people would opt for this. There needs to be cheaper options available for a Catholic burial.

  27. In my limited experience, many families experiencing the need to care for a departed person remains, struggle with next steps. Many have no connection with a community of faith. They are then left, in a period of loss, to do what is appropriate, given the suddenness of the event!

    I usually see this in the hospital at the last moments of a loved one! Their support circle coming from different faith traditions including no faith, the expediency of funeral homes to get the job done, and families with different cultural traditions, it is no surprise to witness the different practices mentioned in the above sharing.

    As Catholic ministry we need to affirm the truth, pastoral always. In my experience families do understand if we listen to them, be there for them. But if the parish and its ministries for the family is basically an order taker, then we do have unusual and bizarre requests. (A similar experience with weddings!)

    We continue to serve, with humility and thanks for sharing a difficult ministry!

  28. I am a faithful practicing Catholic. Every time someone dies in the family there’s a lot of BS with getting a priest to go and bless the grave. I couldn’t even get a Mass at the church where my Aunt faithfully attended Mass for 75 years. The undertaker had to find a volunteer to show up at the graveside. When I die I left word there is to be no involvement with the church whatsoever. Just cremate me and toss the ashes in the woods. Fooling with the church causes a lot of hard feelings.

    I prefer it that way and since I will be dead it won’t matter. I don’t think you can sin after death.

    Love, Katie

  29. I really wish I could simply be buried in a Catholic cemetery so that my body could return to the elements in holy ground. However, the Catholic cemeteries do not allow this to happen. You must be casketed (no problem there, as long as it is wood and will similarly break down) and vaulted (big problem there.) Vaults are required so that the ground doesn’t sink. But our ancestors got around this by merely mounding the dirt on top and time would level it off. Not allowable today They employ teams of landscapers but can’t seem to solve this simple problem. And the Catholic cemeteries with mortuaries attached? For convenience or profit? I would also like for there to be a brief viewing. But, that is not allowable unless the body is pumped full of chemicals which would delay natural decay. Nowadays, a Catholic burial would allow my body to remain intact for centuries. No thank you. I will be cremated and interred with my parents ashes (they are also Catholic) in a non-Catholic private cemetery on farmland. Wouldn’t have been my first choice, but since diocesan and state laws won’t allow me to turn to dust, I’ll have to take matters into my own hands.

  30. Not long ago, I had a baptism scheduled immediately after a Funeral Mass. As I was getting the family ready, the godfather came to me with this “box” he had found in the church vestibule. Looked like, in their haste to get people to the reception, they forgot about grandpa!

  31. A friend of mine died unexpectedly a few years ago, and her body wasn’t found in her house for a month. Her church friends tried to follow her wishes for burial but it would have necessitated an expensive sealed coffin given that her burial plot was several hundred miles away. Her step sons, who greatly disliked her, arranged for her cremation, which was their right, but they lied to us in claiming that the coffin contained her body, when in fact I was told by the funeral director (a really decent man who had managed my husband’s funeral) that the coffin contained only ashes. At least I learned this a little before the funeral so I could tell the priest — these step sons may not have thought it made any difference, but there are different prayers used in the presence of cremated remains, and I was horrified that the step sons lied to us. My friend’s death was tragic enough without this. Earth burial is more expensive, and I can understand why some people prefer cremation; I think my mother would have preferred cremation but she never put it in writing so my father was able to choose earth burial for her, which he found more comforting.

  32. Thank you for this article. I know of several families who have chosen to scatter their dearly departed’s remains. I love your analogy that they would not scatter limbs or other body parts, and will try to lovingly remind them of this when dealing with future families. I believe a refusal to allow a funeral Mass until the burial is arranged is a nice solution to this. Our parish has a columbarium on the grounds, allowing for very inexpensive burials for Catholics in our area.

    1. I think refusing the funeral would be imprudent. The beloved dead is often a devout Catholic, and their remaining family are often lapsed. Refusing a funeral would amount to punishing the devout because if the sins of the lapsed — the prayers at a funeral Mass are a necessary aid to the departed soul.

  33. A sister and a nephew in the New York metropolitan area both had a Mass of Christian burial with cremains in their respective parishes. My pastor says he will not celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial with cremains. Since I can not afford to go out “full dress”, and am not sure who will oversee my funeral, I have prepaid my cremation and obituary locally and a neighboring parish (which takes my pastor’s rejects) will send me off with a Mass of Christian burial with my cremains in a wooden urn from New Meleray Abbey (Cistercian), already bought and paid for. All these arrangements are on file with the Dominicans who run this parish. A nephew will take care of the committal and proper in-ground burial afterwards. Someone has been appointed to FedEx the urn afterwards.

  34. I was recently at a relatives funeral Mass. The wife had been cremated. Luncheon followed. So did the wife. She was actually placed on one of the dining tables, while we sat at the others.

    The situation was complicated. The deceased and her husband both suffered from schizophrenia and he had to be handled gently and carefully. Except for the deceased, my husband, my mother and myself, no one else was a practicing Catholic so they couldn’t have cared less. A female Protestant minister (also the husbands caretaker) was present at the Mass. I explained that she couldn’t receive communion but that I was thrilled that she was attending the Mass. She asked why she couldn’t receive communion. I explained that her Faith did not believe that the Eucharist was the actual body of Our Lord, that it wasn’t a symbol, bu the real deal. She looked at me dubiously, and went and sat down. Sure enough, she went up to communion.

    She was wearing her collar so it was obvious to the presiding priest that she was not Catholic.

    I was horrified from beginning to end. Yet, what could have been done?

  35. Mgsr. Pope,
    My sister died in 1998, she was cremated, and without any of the family’s consent, her live-in boyfriend scattered her ashes, then gave the urn to me. It has been in my possession since then. We were not practicing Catholics at the time of her death, but my husband and I have since returned to the Church. What is the most respectful way to handle this “empty” urn that may still contain partial remains? Would it be appropriate to have her interred? She was not a practicing Catholic, but I pray for her soul every day.
    Thanks and God Bless,

    1. ask the local priest to purify it it some way if you notice any residue. If the priest doesn’t know what to do ask him to call his bishop or the local Catholic cemetery for advice. The empty urn has no sacred character and can be discarded or donated to parish or funeral home.

  36. So I have an interesting dilemma. My sister passed in 2001- estranged from the church and her family. She told people when she dies, she wants to be cremated and scattered somewhere. I just found out that her daughter( non catholic) has had her remains in her closet for 14 years! If my sister is a baptized Cathoic,but renounced her faith,what do I do? Her wishes were to be scattered. At burial is 12k and not an option. I just can’t find absolute answers. I need specifics.

    1. Do not scatter. Not every dying wish is holy or should be followed. If possible insist on taking the ashes and having them properly interred. If she refuses, a closet is still better than being scattered.

  37. I think there should be a fund set up within the Church to be used for people who just not have the means to bury their loved ones. This situation should never be allowed to happen because of money. The dignity of the body should be put in place and carried through matter what the cost to the Catholic Church. You may think that one could take advantage of getting free funeral, but put proper safe guards in place. The Catholic should be seen to do what is right and be a example to other beliefs.

  38. Years ago the idea came to me of using a rotodrill, such as for wells, to provide a vertical cavity for burial.
    A capsule would hold the deceased and many could be buried in 1 acre.
    Capsule could be plastic (recycled)?
    What does anyone think?

  39. Many of our aged aunts and uncles died in the course of last year. Most of them where baptised catholics who had stopped practicing regularly, their children have little or no faith at all and they chose not to have any funeral for their parents, instead they invite friends and familly at a restaurant and make what they call a “celebration of life”.
    Whenever this happens we make an arrangement with our local Church for a mass to be said for the deceiced parent and make sure we are present on that date. We send a sympathy card to the familly letting them know about the mass that will be said.
    Lately, our brother-in-law who was catholic and a very pious man didn’t have any funeral either and half of his hashed were thrown in a river and the other is to be thrown overseas in the Mediteraneen, later in the year. The familly said that these where his wishes. We were invited to assist this ceremony of the “throwing of the ashes” but we refused to go. But we went to our parish church and asked for a mass to be said for our brother-in-law.

    1. More than ever it is important to write down our funeral arrangements if we want things to be done respectfully.
      I wrote mine and it took me a lot of time and reflection. This article puts light on the church’s teaching on this issue. We should take it into consideration when writing our last wishes.

  40. My Archdiocese, Philadelphia, has NO green alternative to the horrendous (and I believe sacrilegious) interment procedures that developed over the last century. A simple trappist/carthusian approach is what I would like. I need no formaldehyde, no casket, and no concrete vault; a simple winding sheet will do just fine. No Catholic cemetery in my area will allow this, tho non-denominational cemeteries will.
    I refuse to have my guts washed down into the Phila. sewer system, and my carcass pumped up with environmentally toxic chemicals, so I have no chance of getting buried in consecrated ground. I don’t seem to have any other other choice but shake-n-bake, if I want my “remains” in consecrated earth.
    Re the keeping of cremains and paranormal activity: Well that explains some strange goings-on in my home. I have my Dad in a box in my night stand, and I suppose Pops isn’t too happy about that. I’m not deliberately going against church regs, but hiding the ashes from my non-Catholic brother who wants to scatter them around the country. When my Mom passes I will have the proper requiem for both of them, followed by a Catholic interment in a plot with room for my own gravel later on.

    1. I get your point, but since there are others that will read this post, your guts don’t get washed out into the sewer system. Hence, the need for formaldehyde.

    2. I couldn’t agree more and my plans are exactly the same for the same reasons. I too consider modern interment practices “sacrilegious.”

      1. Laura, it’s true we’re not actually eviscerated*, but that ole’ trochar does suck out all the blood and body fluids, and from what I understand, they are washed down the drain.

        * Autopsied bodies are supposed to be sent to the undertaker with the organs aside in a a bag: what they do with that goody bag I don’t really know.

    3. If you ever go to Houston, go to the funeral museum at some funeral director training center. It’s wonderful and shows the history of burial in the US. It was during the Civil War, when men were killed away from home, that embalming started, inspired y the Egyptians, and providing a way to preserve remains so they could be shipped home and buried. People used to make their own caskets and making caskets for their children was a form of grief therapy for men when there was high infant mortality.

  41. There is nothing wrong with cremation as long as it is done with dignity and respect. I plan on cremation which will take place after the Funeral Liturgy. Not being one to leave anything to chance, I’ve planned everything that I want and expect right donw to the music, readings, etc. True, I won’t have much to say about it after the fact but I have promised to haunt them forever.

  42. I am a faithful Catholic and want to be cremated. My grandparents bought 3 plots in a Catholic cemetery back in the 1960’s. One has my grandmother, one has my grandfather and one plot is open. The cemetery will bury three cremated people on top of each grave that has already been used. My father & his sister were cremated and buried on top of my grandmother. I want to be buried on top of my grandmother, too-next to my father. That will leave three spots for three cremated people on top of my grandfather. In an unused grave, you can inter 6 people who have been cremated. For me, the idea of using a plot for a coffin when you can fit 6 cremated people inside the same space seems selfish. Why bury three people in three plots when you can bury 18 in the same amount of space? Cemetery plots are so expensive, burial is so expensive. Cremating and sharing plots is one way to cut costs. With a regular burial, I would need a coffin, a vault, and burial. It would be thousands and thousands of dollars using the cheapest materials. To be cremated would be $800.00 plus $340.00 for burial. Between the difference in cost and the little amount of space needed in a grave, I think it should be the norm for EVERY catholic instead of burial. We’re burying expensive coffins in the ground. That money could be used to help remaining family. It doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money on something to be buried. I believe in the resurrection of the dead. I do. And I don’t think cremation has anything to do with “not” believing. If God can’t bring a body back from cremated remains, how would He bring back those vaporized at Nagasaki and Hiroshima? God can bring back anyone-cremated or not. So, why not relieve the financial burden on families by encouraging cremation.

    1. I agree with you! I’ve argued with people before about the “Nagasaki” issue. What about all the Catholic soldiers killed in wars, and their bodies burned or obliterated? What about the people killed on 9/11 who’s bodies were never found or identified? God can do anything he wants in regards to the resurrection from the dead. But that being said, we as Catholics should do our part in trying to give the best Catholic Mass/funeral/burial we can without putting our families or others in debt.

  43. We live in a mobile society. My family retained my mother’s remains until my father’s death so they could be buried in the same plot. Her ashes were placed in his casket after having sat on a prominent shelf (not a closet) for 13 years. So the sentimentality trumped everything. Of course, the expense was for a single plot and stone.

  44. By the way, my mother was brought in a casket to the funeral, and she was cremated afterwards.

    1. This was an excellent blog for a number of reasons. 18 months ago my father passed he was poor and so are my family members both myself and 2 brothers are disabled seniors with fixed incomes. As several people have mentioned the cost of funeral home, casket, grave, headstone are easily as much as $10K. Even the cheapest funeral home service and burial was over $5000. My dad had let his burial insurance lapse too. In my opinion it is extremely degrading and humiliating to force poor families to go into debt – or even further debt- to bury families members. Even Catholic funeral homes gouge the grieving families. My dad asked for cremation because he knew the crippling costs since he’d had to assist with the cost of his parent’s and sister’s funerals. I’d like to see the USCCB do something about the usuary of funerals and burials. It’s easy if one isn’t poor to have disdain about cremations and want to force burials but for so many poor families in the US of A there is no option. My dad’s cremation and urn cost less than $200. May I also add that this article was a revelation to me. When my brother and I went to the parish priest to request a funeral Mass, and explained that dad’s body was cremated; the pastor never mentioned that the church requires a burial or placement, etc… He in fact rushed the Mass and rudely explained in the funeral Mass before the Litany of the Eucharist that he had a social event to get to and then sped so fast through the consecration that it was obscene. Even if he’d explained that we must also arrange the Catholic burial- I certainly wouldn’t have wanted him to provide the prayers. Since we didn’t realize that was part of a Catholic funeral for cremains, we chose to keep my dad’s urn. I have it in a place of honor (no fireplace) and handle the urn with respect and dignity. It would be wonderful to have an opportunity to inter dad’s ashes at a Catholic cemetery for very low or no cost on All Soul’s Day. Now that I’ve learned what is required I will begin to save -although it may take some time- towards a Catholic internment. One more thing, my husband died 8 years ago. We lived in Norway and he’d told me several times that when he died that he wanted to be cremated because he didn’t want to be buried. In Norway, the church and the funeral home work together so that the funeral is held with his body present but afterwards he was cremated. If we couldn’t pay the whole cost of the cremation the Norwegian social security system would have assisted with the cost. May I add the traditional funeral and burial costs are a fraction compared to here. His remains were then sent to the parish. The parish then arranges a burial date with the family and we proceeded from the church to the cemetery. I was told that Norwegian law requires that cremated remains be interred so that they don’t have the strange variations we see here.

  45. Cremation is a Masonic sham meant to mock the idea of the “Resurrection of the Body” contained in the Creed. This is one of many Masonic (read: Satanic) practices that have “entered the Sanctuary” like smoke through that same fissure Pope Paul VI warned of, even though he himself enabled much of it. It is very freeing to do the research and find out what we are living under and then simply speak the truth. Trying to “harmonize” timeless Catholic teachings and practices with the “new” teachings and practices is an exhausting mug’s game. We want our Church back.

  46. As a funeral liturgy coordinator at my church I’ve come across some interesting issues about cremation. One question/comment I get about the scattering of ashes (because Mom/Dad/sibling etc. wanted it) is: If God is Almighty, why can’t he just gather all the remains wherever they are for the Resurrection. Another comment is: well it’s just a shell, it has nothing to do with the soul. So, how do you reply to that?

  47. One of our parish priests at my former parish preached on this exact subject a couple of years ago, and although I have been a life-long Catholic, it was the first time I had *ever* heard of the proper way for Catholics to approach cremation. I am glad for this blog post as well, I’m saving it for reference!

    My mother, God bless her, left lengthy written instructions for her funeral and prepaid for most of it. Of the six of us, four are still very faithful practicing Catholics and the other two very much wanted to respect her wishes. It made things so much easier to have it in writing, and gave us all peace of mind we were doing what was important to my mother. My husband and I sat down and discussed what we wanted after my mom’s funeral, and put it in writing on the off chance we both die together and some third party has to pick up the pieces. I almost think putting these requests in writing and prepaying what you can for your burial is a spiritual obligation, to spare others from having to guess what you want when (hopefully!) they are grieving your loss. Death is an absolute certainty for us all, and no Christian needs to fear it.

  48. Our family members have opted for cremation – and after reading all these posts…I am concerned about all those I’ve lost who were cremated – and their ashes were scattered. We were all raised Catholic – and some have left the church and no longer practice

    My first husband (practicing Catholic) died suddenly in early 80’s…and the priest did not advise me at all on what to do with his cremated remains – and I had no clue about these rules – I was told cremation was now allowed – and his ashes were scattered by a service that did that (after his funeral Mass).

    My dad (died in 80’s – also devout Catholic) and his ashes sat on a closet shelf for sometime too – and one of my sisters and a friend took them to an unknown location deep into a woods and they were put into a river. I didn’t even know when this was taking place until after it was done. When he died at home…and the priest came, he never even spoke with all of us who were gathered there. He just went in and prayed over my dad and left.

    Then two sisters died in 90’s….and they both wished cremation – but had no plans for burial….and because our dad’s ashes were placed into a river (with difficult access to the location and in high country)…rest of family agreed to make that the same for each of them (and both had a Catholic funeral Mass and rosary) – again…no priest asked or advised on what we planned to do with the ashes.

    Then before my mom died…who wished cremation…and when she was terminal with cancer…she suddenly had questions as to what was to be done with her ashes – although with dad and two sisters…this was never brought up in any conversations…so I asked a priest locally whom she knew and trusted – she was living out of state at that time (as she had checked with local parish in her state and the cost was prohibitive and none of us could afford even pooling our resources to have a burial in a Catholic cemetery) – anyway the priest did advise it was preferable to bury the remains…but if that was not done and we were going to place them in a river – (his aunt’s ashes had been scattered at sea)…we were to bring the ashes to the Mass and to have them blessed – and that was done, and then they were placed in same river.

    then a young nephew died (son of one of deceased sisters) died suddenly – he was no longer a practicing Catholic…and his siblings and other family members wished to have the same thing done with his ashes – which did take place.

    Each one of these events that took place as I have outlined above were done very respectfully (so we all felt and thought) after gathering, praying, and emotional reverence by everyone as the ashes were slowly placed into the flowing river with flower petals also.

    So…now…my question is – what about their souls? Does how their bodies – returned to dust – and “buried” in this manner have any impact on their souls??? This is causing me great concern now after learning of these church rules. (after the fact)

    What about all those who died in the twin towers on 9/11? Or all the many other disasters over the centuries when the bodies cannot be recovered for burial? Are their souls affected by how they died and were not buried in the proper manner as required??

    All any of us knew was that cremation was no longer banned by the Catholic Church – and none of us were ever advised of the rules and criteria the Church now states regarding this topic as given in this post. I would hope that all parishes now address this and people are informed what is correct and what is not acceptable. I wish I had known…and reading all this has made me feel – well – very sad – and I hope and pray as I always do their souls are resting in eternal peace – and perpetual light is shining upon each one – in spite of how their ashes were given back to the earth.

    Does this constitute having committed sin?

    1. Donna- The souls on 9-11 had no choice in their burial. Their ashes would have been everywhere. They didn’t chose their resting spot. That’s why it’s considered hallowed ground. People who did not know the correct means of burial for themselves or of their loves ones did not comment a mortal sin. Maybe held accountable for not knowing their faith. Have masses said for them (I have masses said for my parents on their birthdays, Baptizm dates and the anniversary of their death every year).

      1. Kathie – thank you. Yes, we have had Masses said for each and every one…including Gregorian Masses (thanks to my son who has done this for all deceased family members – very special indeed!) I continue having Masses said (many in my husband’s family have passed well as in mine – too many in fact) well as offering other prayers, such as the Rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet…etc.

        As for “being held accountable for not knowing their faith” – I concur to a certain point – but when each death occurred, and a priest (all different ones) was involved…in the services held – yet – did not question, instruct, or say anything about the cremated remains – and we did not know….to be held accountable…??? to what extent? However, yes…it is very very important to have Masses said often for our loved ones…I am a huge advocate of praying for all souls in Purgatory – so many there who have no one praying for them!! And of course I now know for the future what to do. In the meantime – may the Holy Spirit guide us in all our endeavors to serve and love our Lord and follow His will for us! And may proper catechesis in our faith be administered to all.

        Thank you Msgr. Pope for this – and hopefully these issues can be clarified and confusion and ignorance be dispelled – and may His Mercy and love embrace us all!

    2. Some sin involved may be culpable ignorance due to not making an appropriate effort to understand and properly value and act in accord with and witness to Christian beliefs like the resurrection of the body. It seems to me that Catholic guidance on cremated remains flows from that. Some others (such as priests) may be culpable for not making an effort to teach and guide appropriately. This is not a comment on the state of anyone’s soul; God knows the state of souls and we do not.

      Those who do have a fuller understanding should act in accord with it and charitably teach others.

  49. Thank you Msgr. Pope for this article, and thanks to everyone who has responded with their stories. This information has been needed for a long time. I have learned a lot and appreciate everyone’s contribution.

  50. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” St. Paul said. That is what I intend to do in life, and in death. My Lord and Savior died, and was buried. I want to imitate Him. St. Theresa of Avila was placed in a hole in the ground upon her death. No casket, no mausoleum, nothing, yet she is a saint of the Church, and I believe she was incorrupt as well. People are forgetting the nobility of the human body. The body is not just a vessel, it will be reunited with the soul at the Final Judgement. Christ placed great importance on the human body when He chose to take on that which He created, human flesh. Make your loved ones into jewelry? To wear around your neck? No, not happening.

  51. The reason for so much confusion is because there hasn’t been any real catechesis in over 50 years. Back then the rules were clear and explained, sometimes from the pulpits. Even children in Catholic Schools don’t receive any real catechetical or doctrinal teachings. So why the surprise!

    1. Pauline, you are so right. You never hear Catholic Church teaching from the pulpit anymore and no solid teaching in the parishes including the schools. It is no wonder the great lack of faith, if any at all has caused so much confusion. And bishops have failed in teaching and defending the faith. I can see in the future areas of the country that were once strong in faith-that faith totally gone. The only hope I have seen and witnessed myself are those EF parishes. Strong faith, solid teaching and extra classes for both adults and children to instill the Catholic faith.

  52. My Mom just died and had asked for cremation, which we did but the rest was confusing. Funeral Home said we could have Memorial and her ashes did not have to be present. A Catholic priest was willing to do this at his church. Did not sit well with me and fortunatly I know a Catholic Priest and he said the ahes should be present for a Funeral Mass and so we waited and had a beautiful Mass for my mother. I brought my mother home to be buried but it is very expensive. I will have ashes interned at out Catholic Church which has a Columbarium on sight. I am thankful that I had a priest to ask these questions but why do they not all abide by the same teachings. With remains without remains, it does make a difference and Mass needs to be at a Catholic Church not at the funeral home.
    Yes, we all need better catechesis on death and burial- the truth.

  53. Scripture makes it clear that it is the wicked that are scattered and will not see the resurrection. Catholics have NEVER scattered a loved one’s ashes, or allowed their own to be. There are inexpensive niches available at cemeteries and some church yards have places to put their cremains. I’m so glad you addressed this issue!

    1. Margaret, can you please give me that particular scripture passage that “makes it clear that it is the wicked that are scattered and will not see the resurrection” ?? I do not feel that those in my family were “wicked” whose ashes were “scattered” (placed in a river) – they were not “wicked,” and I feel God is our judge…for each of them, and each of us who are still here – struggling to do what is right as we live on this planet Earth…with all its darkness and turmoil and rampant evil running amuk across our globe……those of us left who still love God our Creator with all our hearts and souls…who believe and trust in Him…who is control of all that takes place..I choose Him to follow…and can only have hope that all these questions raises on this topic…will be addresed and answered… in the meantime…those who expreienced what I have thus far in my life…we can only be thankful and learn…”the truth will set you free” – this is what I cling to…because in our world…not much in the way of “truth” is happening…on far too many levels ..all I can do is pray – as Our Blessed mother still urges u to…so…on that “cheery” note..I bid you adieu…and good night… Please…your homework ssignemn? to be the Guardia…hang in there and good night!

      1. I think you are taking personally what is not meant personally. The point is that in the Bible scattered bodies are not a sign of blessing, but of curse and that those who consider the scattering of cremated remains “meaningful” out to reconsider that based on this. There are numerous texts in the Bible that speak of scattered bodies as a sign of wickedness or of having been cursed and punished. Here are some:

        There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them. (Ps 53:5)
        Just as one plows and breaks up the earth, our bones are scattered near the entrance to the place of the dead, do not forsake me O Lord…. (Ps 141:7)
        So your altars will become desolate and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will make your slain fall in front of your idols. “I will also lay the dead bodies of the sons of Israel in front of their idols; and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Ez 6:5

  54. This is very interesting. I did not know our Church had rules or guidelines for disposal of cremated remains.

    All our deceased relatives to date have been buried as is the custom. But I know of two weird outcomes to remains that were cremated.

    1 A young couple I knew from work lost their first child at one day old. In the wife’s grief she had to have the baby cremated and the remains turned into a piece of jewellery which I thought was WEIRD. I did not know this would be considered wrong since the Church approved cremation.

    2 This to me is even weirder; a relative by marriage, or though the buttonhole as we used to say died. His wife had him cremated and the Urn has to be kept on the coffee table in the family lounge. The grandchildren are being taught to talk to the dead grand-dad in the Urn, as if he is still there. Now I know the grandma is a lapsed embittered Catholic, so anything goes I suppose. But I would have made my grand daughter aware this was not only weird, which she knows; but also disrespectful in the eyes of God of I had known.

    Thank you for telling us this. What would we do without a Church man who instructs us as to what is right and what is wrong in the sight of God. I have indeed heard people say they have cremated remains of a relative stored somewhere in their homes, in an Urn of course. Not my cup of tea; but did not know it was wrong.

    From now on if I hear of anything which does not conform to what I have now read, I will say, cremated remains have to be treated the same as a normal deceased body.

  55. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be treated with utmost dignity, honor, and respect. If it is the desire of the dying or family member to have the body cremated then it should be performed in the proper way according to the rules of the Holy Catholic Church. At Baptism the Holy Spirit makes His home within our body and soul. It is an insult to the Holy Spirit to scatter the remains, divide them between members of the family or loved ones or use parts of the body or ashes to make jewelry, etc. When Jesus comes again our bodies will unite with the soul and go to our final resting place. Many persons are not aware of the Catholic Church’s rules on proper burial of the deceased and while making funeral arrangements the priest should inform them about how to bury the cremated remains. Also I think it would be good for the priest to make the congregation aware of proper burial during their homily.

  56. I know of several cases where people still have the ashes at home. Catechesis is definitely needed. So too the absurdity of having the funeral director inter the ashes without the “grave” being blessed by a priest. It also opens the door fir songs of a secular nature instead of proper hymns. As well as the psychology of the cremation affecting the grief process. M as a priest of 25 years Id ban cremation for catholics.. scattering ashes included

  57. I am sure glad I looked at Spirit Daily tonight. This subject matter came up this past year with my best friend who lost her husband three years ago. She never got a legitimate answer. I will have her pull this article up so she can read it and act appropriately. Her husband requested his ashes not be put in the ground. No one really knew the
    church had any rules on cremation. I definitely will bring this article to the attention of leaders in our diocese. I have a feeling a lot of people will be distressed when they are informed of this information, thinking they did something wrong or dishonored their loved ones. The church will have to have to respectfully help the families deal with the lack of direction on how to handle cremation (do’s and don’ts). I know of many situations where the deceased’s were scattered from a favorite mountain, scattered at sea or scattered on land in a memorable location of the loved one. Please, please get this information out to all Bishops through the National Conference of Bishops in Washington so it may be decimated to all pastors in the USA. Respectfully submitted by
    Lucy – 3-19-15.

  58. I would never want to hold a loved ones remains or have the ashes scattered or made into jewelry. That said and done, In Montreal you have the body of Saint Andre in the chapel and his heart in another part of the shrine for veneration. There’s St Anthony’s tongue, saints body parts in many many different churches all over the world so I can see no difference. The rule is either bury or not…

  59. When my father died in 1973 my mother and I went that same day to visit San Carlos Cemetary in Monterey, California where we were living at the time. We had planned to pick out a burial plot at this Cemetary owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey, CA. Instead we ended up purchasing a nitch in the mausoleum which would accommodate two coffins end to end (father now and mother later). We had the funeral Mass at San Carlos Cathedral a few days later, followed by internment that same day. As the years passed I began thinking about cremation due to expenses and came up with an idea. I spoke with the Cemetary manager and was told that many families are now doing the same. When my mother died in 1996 her funeral Mass took place at a parish in the Diocese of San Diego with her body present. Afterwards her body was cremated. About three weeks later I flew up to Monterey with the ashes and a priest officiated at a committal service before her ashes were interred in the nitch next to my fathers coffin. Now I am 70 years of age. I have never married. By the Grace of God I am a consecrated virgin. When The Lord is ready to call me home I have left instructions that I want my body to be cremated, followed by a funeral Mass, followed as soon as possible by my ashes being interred in the nitch at San Carlos Cemetary next to the coffin of my father and the ashes of my mother. You have my permission to publish this using my name if you wish. Mary Jo Gretsinger, STL, JCL. (Angelicum. Rome).

  60. My husband died 5yrs ago. He wished to be buried at sea. We had a Mass and his body was in the church. He was cremated some days later. We had a ceremony at the beach with all family members in attendance. We got into a boat and scattered his remains withBuried at sea. Will his soul be ruined with his body?

    1. No. His soul is fine, if he died in a state of grace.

      Burial at sea is also to be distinguished from scattering ashes. Ashes could be “buried” at sea by placing them intact (i.e. not scattered) into the ocean. This was often necessary in military settings and on long ocean voyages before bodies could be kept until reaching shore. It can be done honorably. What ought not be done is to open the cremated remains and scatter them the sea. What many people call “ashes” are in fact the cremated remains of a human being and this is why they ought not be scattered, kept on mantles and made into jewelry. So, looking back on what you did, burial at sea was OK as far as I know, but scatter of remains on land or sea should not be done.

  61. The Pastor of St. Peter in Merchantville, NJ, Father Anthony Manupella, was distressed at seeing the cremated remains of deceased parishioners held in very “unfitting” containers being carried into the Church for their Funeral Mass. He commissioned a talented parishioner to build a beautiful and worthy receptacle for such needs. As a result, cremated remains now are carried in a mini-cathedral made of wood. The roof of the cathedral opens and the ashes, resting in another fitting vessel, are placed inside and carried in a fitting procession. This surely will bring comfort and inspiration to the family and friends. This certainly points to the fact that the cremated remains hold the same value as the body itself and should be treated as such.

  62. Repost from Lucy. Spling mistake made last nights comments. Should read:
    this information should be sent out by Nat’l Conference of Bishops in Washington to all dioceses in the United States so it can be deciminated to all priests and funeral directors.

  63. ‘What many people call “ashes” are in fact the cremated remains of a human being and this is why they ought not be scattered, kept on mantles and made into jewelry.’

    I can certainly see the point (and the church’ position) concerning the jewellery, and ashes being kept on the mantel-piece, Msgr Pope, but I wonder if your commencing ‘ashes’ comment might not be a bit of a semantic cavil. ‘Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ What has happened is that the process of the breakdown – the disintegration and pulverisation of the material body has been accelerated. It was going to occur, anyway.

    Maybe the Church is right to see the scattering of the disintegrated, pulverised body as a diminution of the egregious status of the Christian as ‘another Christ’, but the whole of Creation is holy in its own way, isn’t it? Although not to have the ashes at the funeral service sounds a needless loss to the force of the rite’s impact on the mind and senses; the integrity of the rite. Just some personal musings..

  64. I also wonder about the ‘scattering’.

    The integrity of the ‘bones’ in references to the bones of the unrighteous being scattered may be specific, as opposed to the body as a whole, or its pulverised remains. They seem to allude to innocence/virtue, in that it was said of Jesus that not a bone of his body would be broken, and, in fact, the markings on the Holy Shroud of Turin apparently show that the blow of the rod of the High Priest’s servant hit the cartilage of his nose just below the bone.

    Otherwise, scriptural references seem to indicate scattering in the sense of a rout.

  65. I can’t read 115 responses, so I apologize if I repeat another commentator. I wonder if cremation practices among Catholics are related to the sort of “presumed canonization” that people give their loved ones these days. Perhaps people are thinking, “I wear a medal withe a relic of St. Therese, why not get a “relic” of Uncle Joe to wear around my neck to? People seem to think there is something sacred about the ashes. Maybe some basic catechesis on eschatology would help. A related issue is that the Church has always divided the bodies of saints — a heart in one Church, a tongue in another. Perhaps, the differences between this practice and scattering cremains should be explained.

  66. I am a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism. My parents and extended family are Lutheran. When my father passed away, he was cremated. My mother, in sadness and confusion, has kept his ashes on the mantle in her home. My father had expressed a desire for his ashes to be scattered at a beach, but fortunately so far that has not happened. I have tried to explain to my mom that his remains should be interred, preferably in a church, with her remains, when that time comes. She has even said she could give me some of the ashes and scatter the rest! People simply don’t know the history behind the scattering of ashes-it was done in the cases of criminals or in pagan ceremonies. I think Protestants see it this way-God can do anything, so it doesn’t matter if the remains are scattered, He will make all things right at the end of time, or even immediately when the person dies. They don’t understand or think necessary burial in consecrated ground. If you read this post, would you say a quick prayer for my father’s soul and that my mother to change her thinking to allow a Christian burial? Thank you


  68. A few questions:
    When a body is embalmed where does the blood go?
    Down the sewer?
    When a body is burned what happens to the smoke that takes at least 90% of the body out into the air?
    When the scrubbers in the crematorium chimneys catch the smoke particles, from the body, where do they go?
    How sinful is it to spend two to twenty thousand for a casket?
    How sinful to put a concrete box around the casket, to save it for what? Again two to fifteen thousand or more? “Remember man from dust thou art and to dust you shell return.”
    How many hundreds of millions of bodies have been scattered through out the world over the last 6000 years? By wind, water, fire?
    As a young boy I helped my dad dig many graves. It seemed so terrible to put thousands of dollars into the ground and bury it.
    A” sin” to put ashes in the forest?

    1. Your logic escapes me. Not sure I follow it but if I do it would seem argue that one abuse thereby permits another and another until nothing matters? I am not sure how to answer to all your questions here nor am I willing to accept that 90% of the body goes into thin air etc. But what does any of this have to do with making jewelry from cremains or scattering remains? These are not “ashes” we are talking about or merely blood, or merely water, or merely an organ that is legitimately harvested to be transplanted, we are talking about the remains of a human being which ought to be treated with reverence. Cremation is permitted. But what remains should be reverently buried intact, not scattered about, put in a closet, made into jewelry etc. Human remains should be interred in places set aside for this, places of prayer where the dead are acknowledged and remembered in some way, both collectively and/or personally. That is Catholic, Christian and Jewish faith. The body is to be reverenced. If you write as a pagan I cannot probably convince you. But if you have faith, then change your thinking.

      By your knowledge of the economy is poor. Thousands of dollars are not being buried in the ground. It is being put in the economy by putting it in the pockets of grave diggers, et al. If you don’t like this or them, fine, but money is not being buried in the ground and the dead should be honored in some way, even if there are costs. How much that does or should cost is debatable but that some cost is incurred, well the dead are worthy of honor.

      1. Thank you for not answering any of my questions, and for calling me a pagan!
        Let me explain a few of my questions so my logic doesn’t escape you! I did not say, infer, or suggest making jewelry out of ashes or body parts.
        A number of the people writing had a concern that their loved one might have some problems in the afterlife because their relative scattered their ashes in some forest or river. We know, or should know, that is not true.
        My first question was “When a body is embalmed where does the blood go?
        The blood, the most important part of the body.
        We can live without, eyes, nose.legs, arms etc, etc, try living without blood.
        My logic is why are you worried about a few ashes being scattered, when, our life blood is flushed down the toilet.
        Are we to pick and choose what parts of the body are reverent?
        Second question, in cremation, you said “90% of the body doesn’t go out in thin air,” wellll WHERE DOES IT GO?
        A big body goes in, a little box of ash comes out!

        You said “By your knowledge of the economy is poor.Thousands of dollars are not being buried in the ground.”

        I now can understand why my logic escapes you. When you bury $15,000 worth of casket and rough box (vault), in the ground, it is buried. It has nothing to do with the economy. I understand all the grave diggers, casket makers, etc,etc make money. By that logic, war is ok, makes a lot of people a lot of money and helps the economy.
        A cremation in our area is fifteen hundred total, out the door in the little box. Average full blown funeral about fifteen thousand. (I know, I recently buried my mother and daughter.)
        The difference is about thirteen thousand dollars. If the Catholic church buried 100,000 people
        a year and saved $13,000 per funeral that would be $130,000,000 saved.
        So just bury it in the ground, or feed the hungry, or help the Catholic schools, or bury it in the ground?

        If something is pagan it is our burial process.

        1. You remain a poor economist, you see economics as a zero sum game. This is flawed. You also have a poor knowledge of physics and are making an errant point about the body going into the air. Study more of the relationship of matter and energy please. This is flawed. Your other points contain some truth, but truths that are exaggerated and isolated. You also exaggerate, and absolutize my points (which I do not), which is poor logic.Please study more philosophy and realize that reductio ad absurdam is a weak approach to debate and usually a mere form of ad hominem argumentum. Try to find more balance in your reflections and discover too that there is such a thing as reverence and irreverence whatever your side trips into flawed physics and economics may seek to demonstrate.

          Regarding your “paganism” did you fail to see the contingency of the remark? Please read the comment I wrote more carefully.

  69. Great article and quite timely – I have to pray for a cousin of mine who has his sisters ashes and wishes to scatter them in 3 different places – Yikes!

  70. Thanks, Msgr. Luckily we have not run across this problem. My siblings and I are aware of the Church’s teaching. Upon the death of my sister, the Catholic Mortuary in Phoenix (Queen of Heaven) did a good job of explaining. After a Mass with the body in Arizona she was cremated and my niece transferred the remains to Virginia. Another funeral Mass was held with the cremated remains in an ossuary. The remains were interred in a cemetery next her husband by the priest. However, my in-laws, both practicing Catholics, want to be scattered. My wife is in prayer over how to deal with this. She want to be able to visit the graves. A practice I have found to be quite helpful in deal with the grief I have experienced upon the deaths of friends and family. When traveling I try to visit the graves of folks I know in the town and have a nice talk with them, “communion of the saints”.

  71. Dear Monsignor Pope,

    Thank you for bringing to light the abuses taking place with the whole cremation ‘thing’. All my relatives have been buried with whole body in tact, traditionally, with funeral mass. Thank heavens!
    I truly did not know any differently until I started working at a funeral home here in my hometown.

    I have a simple job of meeting & greeting friends, of the deceased, at the front door, during viewing hours.
    I have to say the majority of people do have caskets for their loved ones (open or closed) with proper prayers & services. We need all the graces we can get as we depart this earthly life and appear before the Almighty One.

    Anyway I was shocked to learn that there is a closet in this funeral home where “unclaimed” ashes are retained. YES-unclaimed!! The urns sit on a shelf next to other urns in a dark closet. The directors have repeatedly called the families to claim the ashes of Mom, Dad, Grandpa/ma and bury them appropriately.

    I just had to vent with you bc I am so shocked at the disrespect or worse yet, the “sloth” of it all. Did I use sloth correctly? Loved your article regarding such.

    God Bless you Monsignor…Have a blessed Len!

    Pax Christi,


  72. Excellent piece, Monsignor! This is, indeed, becoming more of a concern – and people will continue to ignore Church teaching – because, after all, don’t we all make up our own minds now about what to obey/not obey? The point about not having a funeral without date of burial is most appropriate.

  73. Thank you for this article! I would like to be cremated not because of cost but simply because embalming seems so creepy to me – it does not seem respectful of the body. I do want my ashes to be buried appropriately though with a Catholic rite of Christian burial. My husband would like the same.

    I am very sad to say that my mom wants to be cremated and “scattered.” I’ve explained to her that is not in accordance with Catholic teaching, but she is adamant and I’m sure some of my siblings (fallen away Catholics) will do this according to her wishes.

  74. Today in the Chicago Tribune “Life and Style” section (Sunday March 22,) there was a lengthy article “Who Gets The Ashes” which was a secular dealing with cremation. I could not find a link or reference for this online to share it with you. The author was Richard Asa. To it’s credit, the article goes into some of the problems people face when they keep the ashes in their possession, such as not really completing the grieving process, and discourages scattering of ashes because people find after doing so it is disconcerting not to have a “permanent relocatable grief recovery monument [a grave, or niche in a columbarium or mausoleum] at which to remember and talk about the person who died” notes [Russel] Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recover Institute Educational Foundation in Sherman Oaks, California.
    I think if the Church doesn’t do more to communicate Catholic teachings regarding burial and cremation, articles such as these will guide even Catholics, rather than the Church.

  75. Dear Monsignor~

    After my dear grandmother died, she was cremated. The priest who celebrated her funeral Mass handed me a pamphlet which showed how I could send some of her ashes to a company and they would make her into a diamond. Initially, I was shocked and asked Father how it could be all right to separate her like that, but he told me Holy Mother Church has always divided the bodies of saints and sent them to various churches and sometimes even put these holy relics into sacred jewelry to be worn. I took Father at his word and had part of grandmother turned into a diamond pendant. I wear her around my neck with my St. Benedict Crucifix and feel she is with me and it reminds me to pray for her in case she is in Purgatory. Was this bad advice? Should I bury the diamond with the rest of her ashes? I even told other parishioners about the diamonds and they made some from their relatives, too. Was Father wrong about saints’ relics? Did I sin? I am scared and confused! Please help as I and others will need to know what to do if we’ve made jewelry or even scattered!

    1. Yes, it was terrible advice. I do recommend burying the “diamond” and am sorry that you were misled. Your Mother’s place is in your heart, not worn around your neck. And even if she was a jewel as she walked this earth, she never looked like a diamond and was and still is human. As for the difference between this and relics I comments on that above in the comment thread.

  76. Dear Monsignor~

    I will call today to make arrangements to have my grandmother’s diamond buried with the rest of her ashes. God bless you for your wise counsel!

    Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything in your comments about the division of saints’ relics. I confess to being very scrupulous so now I am afraid I am doing something sinful when I honor the relics on display on the Marian altar at my parish church. We are allowed to walk up and kiss the reliquary containing a portion of St. Bartholomew’s skin from when he was flayed to death. Can you kindly advise me since my priest led me astray about the diamond? I am sure others wonder about the division of sacred saints’ bodies in light of this informative conversation and I honestly can’t find what you said.

    Bless you, Monsignor!

  77. Dear Monsignor Pope
    Thank you for a clarification on Church teaching, as we face declining health of 2 grandmas. I read elsewhere that scattering ashes in a favourite golf course or sea may indicate the deceased prefers golf or fishing to going to heaven!

    However, I have a question on this “….And just as we would not scatter body parts in the woods, or divide up limbs and torsos to distribute to family members…..” My question is for genuine understanding, not a dig at practices. Couple of years ago the right arm of St Francis Xavier made its rounds in Melbourne (Australia), including university chapel. The significance of his right arm was the blessing arm. Was this arm severed for this pilgrimage, or did it happen earlier in history already? I can understand other 1st class relics – hair, blood, blood-stained gloves – but this arm bothered me, precisely for the reasons you gave. Needless to say it gave lots of ammunition to Protestants… Thank you.

  78. DOCTRINE of the FAITH –
    CCC: ” 2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
    The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. ”

    There is no need for scruples. Cremation is ok; but all Catholics should have a Funeral Mass for the Soul of the deceased with the remains present. Do not scatter or divide the remains amongst relatives. Cremated remains should be placed in a columbarium niche or buried at a cemetery.

    If your Diocese does not have a “Catholic” cemetery, contact your Diocese Bishop.

    Many secular cemeteries have dedicated areas for Jews, but not for Christians.
    When this happens you may find Cross memorials right next to football and golfing, etc, memorials. It appears disrespectful.

    Licensed cremation businesses are approx. $1,000 cheaper for a cremation than a funeral home for the exact same cremation services. And cremation services are thousands cheaper than a burial with casket, etc.

    Whatever you choose, it is best if you can make your own arrangements and pay for them in advance if possible.

  79. I have the same question about relics. As a catechist, how do I explain to people why it is wrong to “divide up limbs and torsos” of their loved ones to distribute to family members, but it is okay for the Church to do it with canonized saints? I agree with you completely, but I’m looking for a way to answer the question when asked.
    Thanks, Msgr!

  80. Msgr. Pope:
    I’m sorry. I did not find the explanation of the difference between the carving up of saints for traveling veneration and the reverent division or scattering of cremains. I am a convert to the Faith and have been jarred a few times by announcements that an arm, finger, or organ of a saint was on display. I visited a shrine recently where the sternum bone of a “blessed” was on display and I greatly wondered how this relic was dismembered.

    Please clarify that I better understand my faith!

    1. It’s further up the thread here. Jim Beam is good liquor, and less expensive that Jack Daniels.

      Anyway, since you made we go and look here is a reprint of it:

      Over on Facebook I was asked why the practice of using relics does not also offend against the usual Catholic norms. Regarding relics let us remember: the practice is rare, their whole body isn’t dispersed (only a relatively small amount of fragments of bone or hair). Such relics are to be venerated and placed in areas of religious devotion in Churches, chapels and (rarely) in homes. But they are not put to be put in closets, merely displayed on fireplaces, strewn in fields and forests, or made into jewelry. If one has possession of a first class relic they do not venerate, they ought to return it to the local diocese so a place can be identified where such veneration and respect can be given. Finally, such veneration is only permitted in rare cases of canonized saints, as such the practice is an anomaly and should not set the norm for how we treat all bodies.

      If one can find excesses from previous centuries, most of them have been forbidden now. The bodies of more recent saints are not permitted to be diced up and sent about. Small fragments of bone and bits of hair are most used today. Mother Teresa’s arm and St. John Paul’s head aren’t going to end up in odd places.

      15 Years ago I can into possession of a number of large bones of a 3rd century Martyr. The bones were in a rather large box, sealed with a wax seal and with a window on it to see inside. but the glass was darkened with the years. The inscription said they were the bones of Mairanus, martyr and had been extracted from the cemetery of Callistus near the third milestone of the city. I came into possession of these bones when a certain Jesuit property closed and the community left them behind. Since I read Latin I was asked by the new owners what they were. When I read the inscription and we were all horrified and I was asked to take them. Cardinal Hickey instructed me to return them to him at once since it was not permitted to possess relics of this sort any longer and that they would be returned to Rome. I pray that our Beloved Marianus is in him homeland once again and suitably buried or beneath an altar where his remains are properly venerated!

      So we’ve all got war stories. But that doesn’t make war good.

  81. I am blessed to have spent seven years in Rome as a student of theology and canon law at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, then having worked for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego for 22 years as a canonist in the marriage tribunal. And now in retirement (I will turn 71 on April 19th) I have spent the past five years teaching courses in canon law and moral theology at Good Shepherd Provincial Major Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria. By the Grace of God I am a consecrated virgin.

    With this said, when my father died in 1971, my mother and I had planned purchase a ground burial plot at Catholic cemetery owned by the Catholic Diocese of Monterey, California. Instead, we ended up purchasing a space in one of their mausoleums that was designed to take two coffins placed end to end. The plan was that when my mother died in the future her coffin would be placed next to that of my father. In the meantime, as ground burial became more expensive and more and more people began opting for cremation, I got an idea. I discussed this with the manager of the cemetery in Monterey and then spoke with my mother who readily agreed to my idea. When my mother died in 1996 I had her body present in the church for a concelebrated funeral Mass. After the Mass her body was taken to be cremated. Several weeks later I picked up the urn with her ashes. I then flew from San Diego to Monterey and my mother’s ashes were placed next to my father’s coffin. Now the plan is that whenever I die, after the funeral Mass, my body will be cremated and the ashes placed next to my father’s coffin and my mother’s ashes in the mausoleum in San Carlos Cemetery.

    I understand that not everyone has had the advantage of studying theology and canon law and then working for the Church full time for nearly 30 years. Certainly it would be helpful to publish some small pamphlets outlining Church teaching concerning the preference for ground burial, but the option for cremation and the proper disposition of the cremated remains. It would also be a good idea to have a small pamphlet that can be given to a family by the parish or by Catholic funeral homes immediately upon the death of some one.

  82. Thanks for this marvelous article. Another reason to opt for cremation is to facilitate transport of the remains across state lines to a prearranged burial site. I plan to be buried next to my grandfather, although I no longer live in the neighborhood of the cemetery involved. Thanks for some of the humorous examples discussed in the article. Yes, more reading of the catechism and comparable faith-based material is necessary for many of us.

  83. When our father died 24 years ago, he wanted to be cremated. Our parents had moved several times through the years and they actually had burial plots at two different cemeteries. My mother could not decide where to bury my father’s remains, so she kept them in her home, thinking she would eventually make a decision. Nine years later, my mother died. By that time she had moved to another city to live near one of my sisters. She was not cremated and our family bought another plot for her to be buried in the city where she died. We were able to have the container with our father’s remains put in the coffin with our mother, so they are now buried together.

  84. I am a widow in my 50’s with limited income. I do not want cremation.
    I can afford to buy the burial plot in the Catholic Cemetary and pay for the opening. What I cannot plan for is the cost of the funeral home, the casket, the transporting of the body, the cost of the Funeral Mass and the Graveside Burial and, of course, niceties of a little music , a gift to the priest and altar servers, and maybe a few flowers. When I buried my late husband in 2005 the funeral expenses (plans were made by others) were over $8,000. Buried Mom last year (she was cremated) and the funeral home part of it all was over $4,000 – no charge for burying her ashes on the grounds of the Church.
    All I want is small and quietly Catholic – small and quiet does not seem to exist in the funeral industry.

  85. How does the Church explain the separate locations of some Saints’ bodies? How is this justified? Not that I agree even with these special practices because they usually occur for the same reasons a family does it. I need my connection to my family member but I don’t live nearby. (Seems like a double standard.) The Church needs to take a good look at this practice.

  86. I absolutely DO NOT agree with cremation.Actually, it gives me the creeps. Each time I attend a memorial Mass for a person who has been cremated, I have difficulty looking at the urn!
    JESUS was buried so I think cremation should not be an option for Christians, but if the family insists on cremation, the ashes should definitely be buried and not scattered.

  87. Dear Msgr. Pope
    I was notified by the coroner in another state my sister died in her home at 83. She wanted no contact with any family member for over 20 years. I was called because they found my number in her home and the closest relative responsible for the situation. I live in Nevada and she lived in California. I am 78, partially handicapped and have very little funds in the bank, live on social security and she only had $800 in the bank and no will found. . My daughter took me 500 miles to California for one day and then back home same day. I gave the situation to public administrator to be executor as there was no way I could do what was necessary. Since time had passed something had to be done with the body. The only thing I could do was to have her cremated and then have her ashes put in the ocean. Would have loved to have a conventional funeral but couldn’t.. Also couldn’t go back for the Ocean burial. I now discover 2 days before she is buried that there has to be a Catholic mass with the remains and I have no way to travel back and forth and don’t drive and with leg problelms cannot fly. I want to sit down and just cry. No one helps me. The priest don’t return calls, cemetery plots and cubes are around $3,000 and I can’t travel back and forth to check them out. They are going to do the burial as stated and no way I can create a miracle to do what is now required by the church. Can you please help me in any way. I thought when my husband died 15 years ago it was th worst day of my life. This is just as bad. What can I donow to make thing right. I have always been Catholic but she didn’t even go to church.

  88. I so agree with what you said about the problems that have followed since the church allowed cremation without providing clearly defined policies first. My mom is 77 years old and recently convinced that she is living a life of sin because my father has not yet been interred. He died five years ago and has been in our home ever since because we (my mom and I) were trying to come to an agreement on when and where he would rest. Since Arlington Cemetery is the choice, we had to get on a waiting list. My mother put us on the list before without connecting with me and the date and time he has been assigned is a time and day when I cannot attend. It is less then six days away. My mother is convinced that because we have not yet entered his ashes, she is living a life of sin and because of this is unable to receive communion. I never heard of such a thing nor do I agree that this is a sin, especially on her part. We had planned to do it in the spring with bagpipes, and additional family present. Now all of the sudden she is rushing to get it done next Friday. Please tell me is she living a life of sin? Is it true that she cannot receive communion?

  89. Many forget that not every church teaching is followed by Catholics. The most apparent being artificial birth control that is considered a mortal sin, and people just brush this aside… Now it is about the dead thing… I think the church had better refrained herself from worldly affairs. Yes. This is worldly affair… No living being, no man, no animal, is affected, God is not affected, so this is purely worldly matter.

    Just let people do their own way. I am very sad with the new church rule.

  90. We get our hair cut all the time, and when we are are done, it is thrown in the garbage. It is part of us, yet when the holiest part of us is gone, when the soul has returned to it’s maker, somehow now the hair becomes something? If you lose a limb, it will be cremated with the rest of the biological trash at the hospital, that’s a fact. how much of the body must be in tact to make a difference. I know a catholic vet that is missing both legs and both arms, and an eye, is he somehow living in sin because half of his body has somehow been disposed of? These “problems” are made up by our closed minded interpretations of the verses in the bible. It’s okay to say I think that keeping the remains in the home is gross, or that making jewelery out them is frightening, but to others it brings peace, and joy to know that their loved ones remains are close and not in some forgotten cemetery vault- expensive vault. After one is dead they need nothing, it is between them and god, and if got wants to resurect a body, there will be nothing in his way, not even the cramation, and scatting of a body. If it is agreed that the church will be restored on the temple mount after it has been destroyed, why cant god restore a body after its destruction.

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